Watch: Al Franken loses his mind while quizzing Facebook lawyer about Russian ads

The senator shouted at Facebook's lawyer about ads bought with Russian roubles.

Facebook's general counsel probably doesn't get yelled at very often. Especially by a U.S. senator over the company's technology and Russian roubles.

But he got an earful about just that from a (clearly perturbed) Sen. Al Franken Tuesday.

High-level execs from Facebook, Google and Twitter were in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee for a session on Russian election interference subtitled "Working with Tech to Find Solutions."

When Franken spoke, it was less of a cooperative "working with each other" vibe, and more of a "how the hell did you miss this?" dressing down.


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C-SPAN has the full, 3-hour testimony from the subcommittee. Thankfully, some kind YouTubers have pulled Franken's bit specifically, where he mainly questions Facebook lawyer Colin Stretch. (The clip should start at about 0:45, and things really get testy a couple minutes in.)

If you can't watch and listen right now, here's a bit of the transcript:

"Mr. Stretch," Franken asks. "How did Facebook, which prides itself on being able to process billions of data points and instantly transform them into personal connections for its users, somehow not make the connection that electoral ads, paid for in roubles, were coming from Russia?

"Those are two data points: American political ads and Russia money, roubles. How could you not connect those two dots?"

Stretch begins to talk about that as one aspect of the Russian threat, adding that in hindsight, "there are signals we missed."

Franken, voice slowly rising to a yell, cuts him off: 

"OK, people are buying ads on your platform with roubles. They're political ads. You put billions of data points together all the time, that's what i hear that these platforms do. They're the most sophisticated things invented by man, ever. Google has all knowledge that man has ever developed. You can't put together roubles with a political ad and go like, 'Hmmm, those two data points spell out something bad?'"

"Senator, it's a signal we should have been alert to, and in hindsight, it's one we missed," Stretch responds.

"OK, yeah," Franken jumps back in, face buried in his hands. Just look at it – you don't even need the sound of his exasperated sigh to pick up on his frustration. 

The three social media execs are back in front of lawmakers Wednesday, this time the Senate Intelligence Committee.

All of this comes after it was revealed in recent weeks that Russian-connected accounts bought election-related ads on the three social media platforms.

Klobuchar: 'I don't think it's enough'

Franken's fellow Minnesota senator, Amy Klobuchar, also asked questions at the hearing (though with slightly less showmanship than Franken.) She starts at about 1:14 in the C-SPAN video.

Klobuchar said she does "appreciate the efforts" from these companies, "but I don't think it's enough."

Her concern is about enforcement and consistency. Social media companies can apply all the internal rules they want – if there's no authority to ensure they're following through, that's a potentially large hole.

"We're going to have a patchwork of ads from different companies. Some won't be doing anything, some will be doing one thing, another will be doing another thing. We won't have actual enforcement. Management can change and decisions change, and that's why I think it's very important we have the same rules of the road for these issue ads, as well as candidate ads that we have for TV, radio and print. It's that simple," she said.

Klobuchar recently introduced a bill – cosponsored by one Democrat and one Republican – that would bring online political advertising guidelines more in line with what TV or radio broadcasters are required to do.

Read our story with details about her proposal here.

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